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Blogs are, well, just blogs, Mr. Rago
Posted by: McQ on Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Joseph Rago of the WSJ pens a piece appearing today which is highly critical of blogs and the blogsophere. The first knee-jerk reaction, of course, is to dismiss his criticism as that of yet another in a long line of MSM critics who lament the passing of an era when, like the church of the 17th century, media organizations had a virtual monopoly on providing news and opinion (and he acknowledges that with the obligatory reference to Gutenberg). At first blush, and if not read carefully, it seems arrogant, condescending and, frankly, elitist. And much of it is. But it is worth reading anyway, if for nothing more than a self-check and to again marvel at how some members of the MSM still don't get the blog phenomenon but don't mind offering their opinion about it anyway.

Much of his criticism is spot on even if news only to Rago. It certainly isn't fresh or 'right now', that's for sure.

Given: many blogs are appallingly written. Many do eschew complexity and complication in favor of solipsistic argument aimed more toward pronouncement than persuasion. We all know and acknowledge that. It's been true since blogs first appeared.

But it isn't as though blogs were the first to oversimplify complex issues or report on the "horse race" instead of the issues. George Allen and the "macaca" incident most recently demonstrates this tendency within the MSM as Jon so ably documented. Not to make too much of it, but Rago's claim that "irony is only present [in blogs] in its conspicuous absence" is amusingly ironic.

And if Mr. Rago thinks it is blogs who've coarsened the discourse, he's obviously not been listening to our politicians or watching the talking heads on the cable news channels or talk radio.

Rago, however, completely misses the point of blogs in his criticism of them. Blogs, Mr. Rago, are just blogs. They're Everyman's voice on whatever he feels moved to write about. They're the newest evolution of the BBS, Usenet, Compuserve and Yahoo Groups. They aren't an attempt to supplant the MSM or to do it better than the MSM. They are a means of commenting on the world around us as the on-line community has been doing for almost 20 years. It is just much more visible now and accessible to millions instead of thousands. And, apparently much to Rago's chagrin, taken more seriously than it has in the past.

It is discussing politics and blogs where Rago's arrogance and elitism really come to the fore:
The blogs must be timely if they are to influence politics. This element—here's my opinion—is necessarily modified and partly determined by the right now. Instant response, with not even a day of delay, impairs rigor. It is also a coagulant for orthodoxies. We rarely encounter sustained or systematic blog thought—instead, panics and manias; endless rehearsings of arguments put forward elsewhere; and a tendency to substitute ideology for cognition. The participatory Internet, in combination with the hyperlink, which allows sites to interrelate, appears to encourage mobs and mob behavior.
Any medium, to influence politics, must be timely. There's no use in talking about how our foreign policy might effect our relations with Imperial Japan in 2006. And because politics effects bloggers just as much as Rago, they rightfully exercise their free speech on matters and issues of interest. But Rago seems to think that "instant response" must mean a less than well thought out response, or as he assumes, one lacking the necessary rigor. However, by claiming that, he demonstrates that he really doesn't understand blogs well.

In isolation the claim that commenting on something "with not even a day of delay" must entail shallow treatment of the subject might seem credible. What he overlooks, however, are the posts on the same or related subjects which have preceded the one in question. I dare say, over the past 3 years, I've probably written much more about Iraq than has Mr. Rago. So when I pop out an "instant opinion" it is many times a continuation, modification, or revision of what I've said previously. Should Mr. Rago beam in that one day, sure, he could make that claim. But his claim is a claim made in ignorance, for the most part.

But yes, many blogs voice an "instant" reaction to a story, news item or opinion piece. And yes, in many cases the shallowness or lack of rigor they display may indeed be a result of an ideologically driven knee-jerk reaction. On the other hand, it could just as easily be a reaction to an equally shallow treatment of a subject or issue by the MSM .

Rago seems not to understand that for most blogs there is a dynamic in place which isn't at all prevalent within the MSM - instant feedback. Blogs with any readership whatsoever foster a community atmosphere where conversation, argument, debate take place. And, irony of ironies, they take MSM work, which Rago supposes (or at least implies) is always produced with "rigor" and find precisely the problems with their work that he claims is evident only in blogs. It becomes blog fodder for those very same reasons.

Lastly, Rago has a bit of a 'how dare you' attitude about the "mob" voicing it's opinion, much less anyone taking them seriously. Of course that is a result of his misunderstanding of the intent of most bloggers. Trust me sir, it isn't a desire to be a journalist, by any stretch. Instead, much to the horror of the elite class, it is for the most part just ordinary run-of-the-mill citizens using the opportunity to be heard to, well, be heard. Appalling, no?
This cross-referential and interactive arrangement, in theory, should allow for some resolution to divisive issues, with the market sorting out the vagaries of individual analysis. Not in practice. The Internet is very good at connecting and isolating people who are in agreement, not so good at engaging those who aren't. The petty interpolitical feuding mainly points out that someone is a liar or an idiot or both.
Right. So what? The fact remains that a good portion of those who read blogs never comment, never call anyone an idiot and may indeed find resolution within the argument (even with, horror of horrors, someone called a liar or an idiot) based on the ensuing conversation. The fact remains that there is a conversation of sorts going on despite the pettiness to which it sometimes descends. And that is different than in years past where we simply were the subject of MSM pontification and our only feedback mechanism was to be found in the publication of selected letter's to the editor, if the editors deigned to publish them. While some in the blogosphere may call others idiots, I find it preferable to being treated like one.
Because political blogs are predictable, they are excruciatingly boring. More acutely, they promote intellectual disingenuousness, with every constituency hostage to its assumptions and the party line. Thus the right-leaning blogs exhaustively pursue second-order distractions—John Kerry always providing useful material—while leaving underexamined more fundamental issues, say, Iraq. Conservatives have long taken it as self-evident that the press unfavorably distorts the war, which may be the case; but today that country is a vastation, and the unified field theory of media bias has not been altered one jot.

Leftward fatuities too are easily found: The fatuity matters more than the politics. If the blogs have enthusiastically endorsed Joseph Conrad's judgment of newspapering—"written by fools to be read by imbeciles"—they have also demonstrated a remarkable ecumenicalism in filling out that same role themselves.
The cynicism figuratively drips off the screen here. And again, the irony is palpable. Ask anyone on the left about the WSJ editoral page and what would you expect to hear? Predictable and boring. How about someone on the right concerning the NYT or LAT editorial page? The same. Anyone who knows politics knows what to expect when turning to the editorial page of those newspapers on any issue. What blogs do, especially political ones, is address what is said by these so-called "opinion makers" with opinions of their own. And yes, unlike newspapers who attempt to portray themselves as unbiased or, at least, presenting both sides, these blogs actually do present a second side.

And fatuities compared to what? Again, the irony impaired Mr. Rago seems to have no idea how fatuous he sounds when commenting on blogs. Yes, there are imbecilic blogs. There are indeed blogs which are “written by fools to be read by imbeciles”. But the print media has its National Enquirer doesn’t it? And there is a rather large market for the Enquirer isn’t there? Is Mr. Rago ready to throw all print media in the same bin as the National Enquirer or does he expect the discerning reader to understand and appreciate the difference? More importantly, does he give him credit for being able to do so?

Lastly, bloggers aren’t journalists and few pretend to or aspire to be journalists. Bloggers are, for the most part, people who like to discuss current events, ideas, ideologies, politics and a variety of other topics. Some write well. Others don’t. And that sort of thing normally shakes itself out in terms of readership and, then, influence.

But make no mistake Mr. Rago, the day of single source news and opinion are over. Blogs are simply the latest technology driven medium in which “the mob” as you describe them, is given access to the same audience your industry has held captive for centuries. Trust me, it’s a good thing in the long run, appalling writing and all.

You know, I've actually realized that Rago's entire piece could have been summarized as a botched joke:

"Education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can be a journalist. And if you don't, you get stuck with a blog."


Yes, Mr. Rago, I know - I've been much too logorrheic in my criticism, unlike you.

Oh, there's that irony thing again.

UPDATE: Other reaction. Booman Tribune:
I don't mind being a remora fish, I just wish the belly I was riding on would act more like a shark and less like a lemming. And, one more thing. When Rago says that the media 'made itself vulnerable by playing on its reputed accuracy and disinterest to pursue adversarial agendas', I think he has completely misdiagnosed the problem. When all your sources are bullshit artists, you need to be more adversarial, not less. And if this is difficult, and I know it is, that does not give you an excuse to act disinterested about the truthfulness of your reporting. If Donald Rumsfeld says the moon is made of roquefort cheese, you need to call him on his crap. If you don't, then bloggers are going to call both you and Rumsfeld a liar. And it's just too bad that that makes you uncomfortable.
Heh ... indeed.

Joe Malchow at Joe's Dartblog:
Certainly blogs produce nothing like the mainstream media in data gathering and reportage. But who has claimed they aim to replace that function of major newspapers and wire services? (Silly people — that’s who.) Blogs’ crusade against the ‘mainstream media’ has to do with skewed angles and partisan agenda setting. And do you know what? Blogs do a good job combating those things. Or at least documenting them.
Mark Coffey at Decision 08 gets to some ground truth:
Are most blogs awful? Indeed, they are. So is most of what passes for entertainment on, say, television. But the price is right, and there are some jewels among the dreck.
Dave Johnson at Seeing the Forest thinks there's another reason behind the Rago piece:
I suspect the online WSJ needs traffic and is "trolling for hits." Accommodate them - go read it.
Love it.

Shakespear's Sister gives us a new acronym: "Blog mob" = "Blob".

Welcome to the Blob. You will be assimilated.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Blogs are great because of this section right here, the comments. Its basically research and fact checking by hundreds of people at once. No way could the MSM keep up the rigor of research a blog with a decent readership can have when i can call out the blogger on facts within seconds.
Written By: josh b
URL: http://
"They aren’t an attempt to supplant the MSM or to do it better than the MSM."

I’m not sure I agree with this, especially in the Left-o-sphere. Sites like Kos and MyDD are as eager as right-wing sites to attack the media — these sites actually refer to ABC as a right-wing rag. Their goal, in my mind, is pretty clear: To be come in actuality for the lefties what FoxNews is in their imagination to righties.
Written By: Sean
I’m guessing that the author never met his coworker from "Best of the Web"
Written By: davebo
URL: http://
I’m not sure I agree with this, especially in the Left-o-sphere. Sites like Kos and MyDD are as eager as right-wing sites to attack the media — these sites actually refer to ABC as a right-wing rag. Their goal, in my mind, is pretty clear: To be come in actuality for the lefties what FoxNews is in their imagination to righties.
I’m not sure how all of that equates into a desire to "replace" or "do it better" though, Sean.

It’s criticism, albeit unfounded in many cases, but still, just criticism.

Blogs are different animals than the MSM, mostly because of resource constraints (and the fact that no one pays us for our opinion). Blogs rarely break news. At best they’re aggregators. But the grunt work of reporting is still the almost exclusive realm of the MSM (with notable exceptions).

I don’t see that changing, and, for the most part, I don’t see the vast majority of blogs aspiring to that role.
Written By: McQ
I’m guessing that the author never met his coworker from "Best of the Web"
Heh ... I’m guessing you’re probably right.
Written By: McQ
They aren’t an attempt to supplant the MSM or to do it better than the MSM.", they’re not (there are a couple but they’re outliers of the trend). But as technology cheapens they certainly will be- at least on the local scale. For local news, blogs can be a serious competitor to the local tabloid or media outlet

But Rago’s consternation comes from the blogsphere’s attitude of "we’ll fact check your a**" - who among us likes to be called out? Eason Jordan didn’t like it. Dan Rather didn’t like it. The AP doesn’t like it.

Too bad. They should do their jobs better- walk the walk to match the talk they talk. Then blogs wouldn’t have nearly the ammo. Oh well. As long as Jason Blair can write at the Times, Dan Rather can run with clear forgeries on TV, various journos can claim the IDF shot Red Cross ambulances with missles in spite of mounds of evidence to the contrary, as long as the AP can run war photos that are staged or photoshopped, or keep quoting fugazy sources like "Jamil Hussein" or the Times can run with every single classified leak from a partisian with an axe to grind regardless of consequences or the media doesn’t have the sack to show the verboten Danish Mohammad cartoons.........then I guess Mr. Rago will have to suffer the agita caused by bloggers.

And too damn bad for him.
Written By: shark
URL: http://
I went to a dinnner party given by a writer who has published about 20 books in so many years. He was baffled by blogs and was asking around the dinner table what they were. It was strange to me that he couldn’t comprehend that they’re just blogs, like you said; they’re simply websites. He knew what a website was but somehow he couldn’t fathom the blog. It was a peculiar thing to watch going on, especially when the man writes for a living.
Written By: David Quick
On the plus side, somebody should tell Rago that he makes great tomato sauce...
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Ragu, shark.

Written By: McQ
Of course, if a MSM Newspaper makes crap up it takes a while for the Jayson Blair type to be found out and run out of town. But if a blogger does it they are taken out in minutes.
SO despite the sometimes amature approach and the flame wars, blogs mostly get it right, or at least there is some feed back. Editorialist’s for the Wall Street Pollyanna, on the other hand need only write their opinions and sniff petulantly at the plebeians.
Written By: kyle N
Rago’s column simply drips, with the paint of a broad brush. He insists that Blogdom his monolithically inhabited by countless hacks who are uniformly unfair to his mainstream media. Certainly, there are people like that. But to soap paint the entire population... seems a liitle out of bounds at least.

Well, let’s look at history and notice that when someone paints with that broad a brush over an entire group of people that he defines, he’s reacting out of fear, being scared to death. I will respectfully point out that that way lies racism sexism Nazism and so on. While I don’t consider that he’s aiming at such extremes, I suggest that all of these are logical extensions of what the man is peddling.

What, then, is he afraid of? For one thing, he’s afraid that someone may actually notice, that the phrase "mainstream media" becoming a pejorative was the work of none other than that MSM, of which he is a part.

Bruce, your point about most bloggers not really wanting to be journalists, per say, is well taken. At the same time, that they are taken as such, and in that they are taken as such an improvement over the existing mainstream media, by so many, in terms of journalistic integrity, etc., only shows how badly the existing mainstream media has been failing in those areas.

Rago’s column would never have been written had the press not fallen down on the job on what can only be seen as a massive scale. The man is apparently and understandably nervous that someone is stepped up, however unintentionally to fill the gap. The natural reaction, for such a person, is to attempt to discredit such replacements.

In that attempt to discredit, however, he seems to be missing a few pertinent facts; as an example ... His derision, with regards to the influence that blogs have, can only be intentionally ignorant of their role in bringing down the Canadian government at one point, and basically rolling all over the Clinton administration’s misdeeds.

Or, perhaps that’s part of his problem, too.

Written By: Bithead
URL: http://
We r juzt sum clooless blaggurs. Pleaz halp us, Mr. Raggo.
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
I sympathize with Roggo. (argh, so what am I doing here?) Sure, his generalities don’t apply to every blog, but I think he’s correctly describing the way in which most blogs exist to push an agenda, or a series of agendas, usually ideological ones, and they continue to do so regardless of whether they are helping the viewer obtain a genuinely accurate picture of reality.

Just mouthing "hey, **WE** never said we’re not biased" isn’t good enough. Biased sources are unreliable and destructive. Blogs are deconstructionists, great at pointing out the MSM’s flaws, great at undermining their societal role and revenue model, but the honest ones admit, as McQ notes, that they are not willing or able to replace the services that MSM provides. The dishonest and/or stupid ones express a genuine interest in supplanting the MSM. But they can’t.

I don’t think that the evolution of the blog is a bad thing per se. Like most technology, it solves some problems and creates others. I have yet to see leading blogs interested in examining the question - are we in fact creating problems, and how can we solve them? It will probably fall to someone else to quantify such problems.
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
Glasnost: Most likely, their replacement(s), given the pattern of history. History, you may know, has a habit of being far more harsh, and alternately, far more generous with the actions of various groups, then those groups ever imagined. The sad part about being judged by history, is that most of us will never know what history thought of us.

As for your comments regarding supplanting the mainstream media, there is only one that I’m aware of that suggests they are not write replacement. That would be Matt Drudge and company... And he is quite adamant about saying he’s not a Blogger.

Certainly, there are a number of people who have delved into the stated work of the mainstream media, and outperformed them. But I have my doubts that there are more than a handful of bloggers who will make the claim that they’re out to replace the mainstream media. But here’s the thing; it is clear that Rago THINKS that’s what they’re about. and that, it seems to me, is revealing about the kind of job the mainstream media has been doing, even in the eyes of Rago himself. If you think you’re about to be replaced by somebody who isn’t really trying for the position, what kind of job do you think you’re doing? Good? Bad?

As I say... you can read the fear in this man’s words.

Written By: Bithead
URL: http://
What I love about blogs is that marginalized voices which ordinarily aren’t heard get a chance to speak. Yeah, usually we won’t get repeat readers if we’re on the left and they’re on the right, and vice versa, but at least we can have dialogue amongst ourselves, and even just some entertainment about some middle aged lady living in a straw bale house with her five cats and four dogs. I like writing about politics at times, but I don’t pretend I’m my own newspaper.
Written By: Thirza
URL: http://
...most blogs exist to push an agenda, or a series of agendas, usually ideological ones, and they continue to do so regardless of whether they are helping the viewer obtain a genuinely accurate picture of reality.
Which at worst makes them no different from the MSM, and in some cases much, much better.

Blogs are still a great improvement of the public circumstance.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://

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